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Published: Monday, 11/23/2009

Lucas County set to slash budget, at least 20 jobs

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

With a potential for as many as 60 layoffs in the Lucas County Sheriff's Office, the Lucas County Board of Commissioners is set to vote Tuesday on deep budget cuts for the second year in a row.

The county general fund is pegged at $131.7 million for 2010 - a 7.1 percent reduction from the current year's budget of $141.8 million.

Commissioners are cutting 20 employees from departments they oversee to reduce county staffing to about 780. Those include the dog warden, child-support enforcement, job and family services, building regulation, sanitary engineer, sewage treatment, solid waste, emergency services, facilities, human resources, and recreation.

Not clear was how many layoffs may be necessary through the departments that elected officials supervise, including the sheriff, prosecutor, auditor, treasurer, recorder, engineer, clerk of courts, and judges.

"We believe that this budget will allow the county to continue to meet essential services," county Administrator Michael Beazley said. "We do it by having a good, strong, working relationship with our collective-bargaining groups and elected officials."

He said the county will avoid reaching into the county's rainy-day fund, after relying on it for two budgets. The fund stands at about $11 million.

The pending cut of 7.1 percent follows a cut of 3.5 percent for 2009. In 2008, the county increased spending by 1.3 percent.

Mr. Beazley said the county's work force will have fallen from a high of 1,153 people in 2002 to fewer than 780 next year.

"What we wanted to avoid is what happened to some other governments. If they don't have a reserve, they must radically downsize and cut services when they haven't had time to plan," Mr. Beazley said.

Under county policy, the administration sets budget goals but leaves details largely to the elected officials.

Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop said the sheriff's office was threatened with 60 layoffs, but he said he has worked with the sheriff and a union representing sheriff's deputies to avert layoffs.

The sheriff's office is trying to prevent mandatory layoffs as it cuts its general fund budget by $2.2 million budget, or 6.5 percent, from $35.3 million in 2009 to $33 million in 2010, said Jim O'Neal, the sheriff's office corrections administrator who works on the office's budget.

Mr. Konop said Friday the county administration "prescribed" 60 layoffs for the sheriff's department. He said talks involving him, Sheriff Jim Telb, and Ken Lortz, director of United Auto Workers Region 2B, led to a pact on savings that would avert such an outcome. "We strongly believe the elimination of 60 or more positions in the sheriff's department, as prescribed by the administration and echoed by Commissioner [Pete] Gerken in media reports, would jeopardize public safety and would be to the detriment of all Lucas County residents," Mr. Konop said.

He said the UAW agreement involves offering buyouts to get as many as 30 retirement-eligible deputies to retire by Jan. 31 and changing rules to reduce overtime.

Mr. Gerken could not be reached for comment. Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said the commissioners did not prescribe layoffs to the sheriff, but welcomed the sheriff's proposal for meeting his budget goals.

"It looks to me like he is identifying budget savings that add up to the amount of money that's been requested of him to cut," Ms. Wozniak said.

The sheriff's department this year has begun cutting back on routine patrols in the townships.

"We will still have a presence out there [in the unincorporated areas]. The presence may be less than what they're accustomed to," Mr. O'Neal said. "We're still going to have people answering 911 calls."

He said the sheriff's office is in discussions with Monclova and Springfield townships about contracts to supply police protection.

The cutbacks in the sheriff's office come after a decade of boosting the payroll.

Employment rose from 466 in 2000 to 536 in 2007 and since has dropped to 501, Mr. O'Neal said. In the same period, the average daily inmate population in the jail on Spielbusch Avenue increased from 370 in 2000 to 493 in 2006 and since has fallen below 430.

The county's budget woes have occurred with much less public drama than those afflicting the city of Toledo.

Last week, outgoing Mayor Carty Finkbeiner turned in a proposed 2010 spending budget of $241.2 million, but with only $211 million in revenue.

Mr. Finkbeiner urged City Council to adopt $30.2 million in new revenues in the form of a $16 monthly trash fee and elimination of an income-tax credit for about 19,000 Toledoans who work in other cities.

If council adopts the mayor's proposed revenue enhancements, the 2010 budget would be a 7.2 percent increase over 2009 but close to what was spent in 2007 and 2008. If council and incoming Mayor Mike Bell do not adopt any revenue increases, the budget would have to be cut 6.2 percent.

Mr. Bell said he would not respond in detail to the mayor's proposed budget until he has had a chance to discuss it with council. He said raising taxes would be a last resort.

He said the county seems to have been more proactive in anticipating the budget decline.

"We need to have a sense of this year and upcoming years that we need to stay inside our means, and that may mean being more proactive in terms of how we approach the budget situation, so that we're not into this again next year," Mr. Bell said.

The Lucas County Treasurer's Office reached a budget-cutting goal of 10 percent by eliminating one management position and having remaining managers take six furlough days in 2010, said Mark Austin, deputy to Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz.

The Teamsters' union, which represents the treasurer's employees, recently accepted a three-year contract with no annual raises this year or next, with a reopener for 2011.

Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez said she has trimmed her agency's payroll - from 112 full-time employees in 2006 to 95, according to records - through retirements, voluntary departures, and terminations. She believes the cutbacks have occurred with no loss of service.

"I actually believe we have worked hard to make sure services have improved and that in no way citizens have been impacted and everyone has really stepped up to provide the best customer service possible," she said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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